The Reds vs. the Blues
Fast forward a year. It’s May 2021 and the early signs for the Coronavirus vaccine are promising. But it’s still not widely available. The sudden virus mutation in September 2020 caught everyone by surprise. The UK is back at work, but the staggered working introduced a year ago is still in force. And the virus mutation has meant that social distancing – or just ‘distancing’ as it’s now called – will be a permanent feature of work and life.
It’s 8:30 on a Monday morning. Six people – all wearing blue masks – arrive in an office. They carefully follow the one way system to their distanced work stations. “Here we go,” one of them says out loud. “Another week, another five days wasted clearing up the mess the Reds made last week.”
Fast forward another week. To 8:30 on the next Monday morning. Six different people – all wearing red masks – come into the same office. “Here we go,” one of them says out loud. “Another week of trying to build something the idiot Blues will tear down next week.”
“It’s pointless,” someone replies. “We should leave. Set up on our own. We’re the ones with the ideas, we’re the ones with the initiative. We don’t need the Blues.”
There’s a general murmur of assent. “Alice,” someone says. “She’s the only one with any talent. We’ll steal her from the Blues. Then we’re good to go.”
“When are we going to tell Ed?” someone else says. “If we leave and he’s left with the Blues he’s screwed.”
The first person speaks again. “It’s not like Coronavirus is a secret is it? It’s not like he hasn’t had a year to sort it out. It’s not all about the bottom line: it’s about us. The people that make the bottom line.”
Two of the Reds go online and check the details of the Government’s new Springboard Loans for start-ups. One of the others invites Alice to join their WhatsApp group…
Here we are back in May 2020 and I’m starting to write the blog on Tuesday morning. The Government has just announced the first tentative measures to ease lockdown and yes, there’s been plenty of criticism of the ‘stay alert’ message. But interestingly the French instruction – sauvez des vies, restez prudents – translates as much the same thing.
In truth, what can we do except feel our way cautiously towards whatever the ‘new normal’ looks like? We have to re-start the economy and set businesses free: we have to protect the NHS and public health. It is going to be an immensely difficult job.
…Almost as difficult as managing the Reds and the Blues.
At the beginning of the month one of the lead stories in the Financial Times had a stark heading: Offices set to stay closed for months.
The story was simple. If you can work at home the Government will encourage you to work from home – quite possibly for several months – so that public transport is not overwhelmed.
That’s exactly what we’ve now seen. And if yours is what was once called a white-collar job – but is now, of course, known as a ‘smart top for Zoom and pyjama bottoms job’ – then you won’t be catching the 7:42 any time soon. And even if you do go into the office, you could well be working on a red/blue system.
This will raise huge problems for business owners and managers. How do you manage what was once a team and is now two teams? How do you keep team spirit and company morale high? It is only human nature for the Reds to roll into work on Monday morning and start grumbling about what the Blues haven’t done. And for the exact reverse to happen seven days later.
One of my TAB UK colleagues, David Roberts in North Wales – a man who must be braced for an influx of visitors this weekend – recently gave a presentation on this very subject: Leading and Managing Remote Workers.
And rest assured that as we gradually return to work this will be an oft-discussed topic around TAB’s virtual boardroom tables. It’s a problem none of us have ever dealt with before – and it clearly illustrates the value of ‘shared wisdom.’
It won’t be just you trying to find a problem to managing two different teams: you’ll have 450 people working on the solution with you.
As we go back to work there are bound to be ‘calls for certainty.’ Adam Marshall, director of the British Chambers of Commerce, said, “Businesses will need to see detailed plans for the phased easing of restrictions … supported by clear guidance.”
But certainty can only be provided by a total lockdown or a total free for all. Anywhere between those two extremes and there are bound to be shades of grey and differing interpretations. As business owners and entrepreneurs, we’ll just have to cope.
But isn’t that what we do best?
We cope, we adapt, we innovate, we see opportunity where none previously existed. As I wrote two weeks ago, we find new ways of bringing new products to new markets.
…And we work together. There’ll be plenty of bumps on the road out of lockdown – but with 450 members of TAB UK on your side you could not be better placed for the eventual recovery. You all know one of my favourite sayings by now. If you want to go fast, go alone: if you want to go far – even in a time of crisis – go together.